Wales seized the 2019 Guinness Six Nations title from Ireland while Italy were condemned to the wooden spoon in a dramatic final day.
Here, we examine five things learned from the tournament.
Warren Gatland’s final Championship match ended in jubilant scenes in Cardiff after his team were crowned Grand Slam champions for the third time under the Kiwi, who leaves his post as the Six Nations’ greatest coach on the grounds of sustained success delivered over a number of years.
He steps down after Japan 2019 and the Principality will surely never see his like again.
All hail Alun Wyn Jones…
It is hard to overstate Alun Wyn Jones’ influence on Wales and fittingly he was at the heart of a thumping 25-7 victory over Ireland, shaking off an early knee injury to inspire his side to a glorious win.
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- Sam Warburton talks up Wales’ achievements
The 33-year-old is a magnificent player and talisman and will eventually retire as one of the greats of the game – in either hemisphere.
Wales’ fourth Grand Slam of the Six Nations era is a record and they will enter the World Cup as standard bearers for Europe after climbing to second place in the international rankings with only New Zealand above them.
The last team to complete the clean sweep in the same year as the global showpiece was England in 2003 – and look how that turned out.
What happened to Ireland is the biggest puzzle. The defending champions were rightly viewed as the team to beat but from the moment they were swept aside by England in Dublin, they floundered.
Joe Schmidt’s Midas touch deserted him, half-back generals Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton were out of kilter and their discipline disintegrated. Viewed pre-Six Nations as the greatest threat to New Zealand’s throne, the players now retreat to their provinces with shattered confidence.
Given they were the team that played the most spectacular rugby, Eddie Jones’ men will regard their runners-up spot as a failure, but the blizzard of tries against Ireland and France masked a fragility that sounds the alarm for Japan.
Second-half collapses against Wales and Scotland illustrated that the implosion in the first two Tests of last summer’s tour to South Africa were actually early signs of a psychological flaw that has crept in. And every bit as worrying is their inability to react when the tide is turning against them.